What does it take to demonstrate sheep shearing for every visitor? That’s shearing one sheep each day 3-5 days a week for 12 weeks, so you need a flock of at least 40 adult sheep. How hard could 40 sheep be? (said no sheep farmer ever) :)
Sheep are masters of overcoming fencing. Barbed wire or electric fences don’t bother them much because their fleece protects them. We need to devote many hours to good fencing to keep the sheep safe and we're constantly working on upgrading our cattle fencing to suit sheep.
Sheep are very vulnerable to predators. Coyotes are the main threat to sheep in Manitoba. The best protection is a guardian dog, who lives loose with the sheep, marks territory and will be willing to fight a coyote. This is especially important during lambing season. To do their job, they must be free to roam. In a populated area like ours, this can present challenges with the dogs who don’t stay home. Guardian dogs must be trained as puppies to be socialized only to sheep, so that they will stick with the flock and protect it as their family. It may take many months until they are really useful.
Sheep need to be sheared once a year. Our sheep are a breed raised for meat, so the wool is a by-product and not a real source of revenue. We shear all of our sheep for demonstration, so we use manual shears, sort of like scissors, instead of electric. This allows us to talk to people while we are shearing. End result- bits and bobs of wool, not a whole fleece at a time.
Shearing one sheep a day also means that we have to catch and move one each morning, not as easy as it may sound, since our flock is not handled very often.
Shearing itself is back-breakingly hard work. Our guys bend over double and often lift the weight of the sheep while they are in this doubled position. They don't shear for long each time, since we are only shearing a small portion of the sheep for each demonstration, but they do have to do it many times in one day.
While shearing, we answer some common questions, such as: ‘why is the wool a different color close to the skin?’ Sheep have lanolin in their wool and this is a wonderful oil for healing skin and ‘waterproofing’ their fleece, and it also makes the wool yellow. Each child gets a wad of wool to take home and it’s easy to feel the oily lanolin on your fingers.
Sheep farming is always interesting, and our flock is very hardy. They make good use of the pasture, since each herd or flock of animals prefers different plants, so the cows, horses, sheep and goats keep most everything trimmed. We’re happy to be able to highlight this amazing animal for our visitors.